Winter's impact on deer uncertain

The jury is still out on the impact this winter will have on area deer herds, and wildlife managers are taking a wait-and-see approach, at least in forested areas.

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Gretchen Mehmel, manager of Red Lake Wildlife Management Area at Norris Camp south of Roosevelt, Minn., said they continue to build points on the Winter Severity Index because of lingering snow depth on the WMA and in Beltrami Island State Forest.

A formula developed to assess winter's impact on deer, the WSI tallies the number of days with at least 15 inches of snow on the ground and temperatures of 0 degrees F or colder. Sites can build 2 points daily if both conditions are met, and an index of 180 points or higher at the end of the winter is indicative of a severe winter.

As of Thursday, the WSI at Norris Camp was at 130, and there still was 18 inches of snow in the woods, Mehmel said.

"The severe winter didn't really get going until mid-January, and that hopefully helped the deer somewhat," Mehmel said in an email. "The ones I've been seeing still look OK."

Deer are abundant in the agricultural parts of his work area, said Scott Laudenslager, area wildlife manager for the Department of Natural Resources in Baudette, Minn.

"I think we're in pretty good shape" in the ag areas, Laudenslager said. "The forest might be something different. That we don't have a handle on yet. When there's 30 inches of snow, that's going to affect fawns-especially in the forest."

Tony Elwell, a DNR conservation officer in Thief River Falls, said in last week's report from DNR Enforcement that he's been seeing a lot of skinny deer in his work area. The spring thaw has drawn large numbers of the hungry deer to exposed grass on the shoulder of roads, especially in the morning and evening hours, so motorists need to be on the lookout, Elwell said in the report.

-- Brad Dokken

Pronghorn hunters have 81 percent success

North Dakota pronghorn hunters had 81 percent success during last fall's hunting season, according to statistics provided by the North Dakota Game and Fish Department.

Game and Fish issued 1,081 licenses -701 lottery and 380 gratis-and 976 hunters shot 792 pronghorn, consisting of 761 bucks, 28 does and three fawns. Each hunter spent an average of 2.7 days afield.

Two percent of the harvest occurred during the archery-only portion of the season.

Game and Fish will determine the 2019 pronghorn hunting season in July.

-- Herald staff report

Lake Winnipeg plan draws support

The Manitoba Wildlife Federation and its partners in the Lake Winnipeg Walleye Working Group are supporting the Manitoba government's recent plan to manage Lake Winnipeg more sustainably.

The government outlined the plan in a March 11 news release.

"We believe that the initiatives outlined in the government's news release, including reductions in the commercial fishing quota, instituting a minimum mesh size to protect young, immature fish and changes to angling regulations are steps in the right direction to help reverse the decline in the walleye and sauger fishery on Lake Winnipeg," Brian Kotak, managing director of the Manitoba Wildlife Federation, said in a news release. "The groups involved in the Working Group are also pleased to see the government acknowledge that there is a problem with the current quota level and management system in place to govern commercial fishing on the lake."

MWF and its Working Group partners raised concerns last year about the threat to the Lake Winnipeg fishery and advised that a science-based approach is required for setting lake quotas for the three commercial species being fished-walleyes, saugers and whitefish.

A key component of the proposed changes would require commercial netters to adapt a minimum mesh size of 3.75 inches for most of the lake and in all seasons. Larger mesh sizes still would be permitted, up to the current maximum, allowing the commercial fishing industry to continue using slightly larger-mesh nets.

"A 3.75-inch mesh will protect sauger and smaller walleye, which have not reached spawning age," said Scott Forbes, a University of Winnipeg scientist who has criticized a multi-species quota system that encourages overfishing of walleyes, the most economically lucrative species. "The first rule of fisheries sustainability is to ensure that fish have a chance to spawn at least once."

Don Lamont, a noted Manitoba angling educator and celebrity, said the province needs to pay more attention to the economic impact of angling in the province. Manitoba sells almost 200,000 fishing licenses annually.

"The government needs to acknowledge and account for this economic engine when thinking about the need to better manage Lake Winnipeg," Lamont said. "We believe that the steps recently outlined by the government will put us on that much-needed path to a sustainable future for the commercial industry, anglers, subsistence fishers and the fishery itself."

The Lake Winnipeg Walleye Working Group consists of representatives from MWF, Manitoba Lodges and Outfitters Association, Fish Futures, Walleye Anglers Association of Manitoba, Hooked Magazine, Seven Oaks Game & Fish Association, The Wildlife Society, and others interested in the well-being of the lake's fishery.

-- Manitoba Wildlife Federation

Did you know?

• The South Dakota Governor's Cup walleye tournament is set for July 19-21 on Lake Oahe near Pierre, S.D., and Spring Creek Marina is tournament headquarters. This year marks the 45th anniversary of the Governor's Cup, which organizers call "the longest running walleye tournament on the planet." Applications to fish the tournament are available at www.thefishingcrew.com.

• Following a pattern observed in neighboring states, the Minnesota DNR reports a substantial but expected decline in the number of bats in the state. The decline results from white-nose syndrome, a disease that is harmful and usually fatal to hibernating bats. Recently completed DNR bat surveys have recorded declines up to 94 percent in affected locations across the state, compared to counts before March 2015, when the DNR first confirmed the disease in Minnesota.

-- compiled by Brad Dokken